Wednesday, August 27, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 27 August 2014

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.' 
Matthew 23.27

Reflection
There is more to your life of faith than convincing the neighbours you lead a God-fearing life. What goes on behind closed doors where they cannot see matters also, as does your own interior life which is known only to you and your Creator.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

hoaxing with death

I received a text/sms message last night, from more than one person, which was clearly being forwarded on from person to person, a chain-text so to speak. The message was:


"Urgent text message from Open Doors - Christians in Northern Iraq are calling for urgent prayer backing as they are in great danger - serious threat of beheading of all Christians in a few hours."

Open Doors are a well known international advocacy group supporting persecuted Christians, so my first response was to take the message very seriously indeed. So seriously that instead of automatically forwarding it on, I went straight to my computer and pulled up their website. My thinking was that something of this magnitude would warrant some kind of press release on their site. I wanted to know more (and anyway I've always had an innate distrust of chain letters and their ilk). But ...

Nothing. 

I tried calling their Belfast and London offices, but they were closed at that time. So then I started googling - surely if some fresh horror were about to be visited on the suffering Christians of Iraq, there would be something about it on the web. I know that the mainstream media tries to downplay persecution stories, but there are enough other outlets, especially those who focus on human rights, religious freedom, and the persecution of Christians that there was bound to be something.

Nada.

I was left feeling deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing. So I said a prayer anyway - there is so much suffering and persecution going on in Iraq that they need all the prayers that they can get - but didn't forward the message on. The answering machine for the Belfast office of Open Doors said they opened at nine. At 9.01 I had them on the line. And it was a hoax. The message was nothing to do with Open Doors. They had heard nothing of any new threat to Christians in Iraq. Their Australian Office, which is 'ahead' time-wise, already had a message to that effect on their site. Which meant, of course, that this hoax was a global thing, not just a local one in Ireland.

Who does that kind of thing? Did the person doing so think it was funny? Did they think they were doing a good deed in some way, by high-lighting persecution, even if it was with a lie? Was it intended to discredit Open Doors in particular and reports of persecution in general? 

One thing it was not, is an honest mistake - falsely putting the name of a specific organisation to the message makes such a suggestion incredible. And I wonder did they think for a moment the real distress their message would cause to those who read it and believed it, thinking that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were about to be savagely murdered, martyred, for their faith? I know one of the people who forwarded the message on to me was horrified to think someone would engage in a hoax about such a thing and had been very upset when they received the original message. Such a hoax would be in poor taste at any time; coming so close to the brutal murder of James Foley displays an alarming lack of any kind of sensitivity. 

So even as you breathe a sigh of relief that things have not gotten worse in Iraq, remember to keep them in your prayers for the terrible conditions they already endure. And pray for the person or persons who foolishly sent round this text message, that they may learn that to do such a thing, what ever their motivations, was wrong and not to be repeated. People are already suffering dreadfully in Iraq. Telling lies about what's happening is an insult to them. 

prayer diary Tuesday 26 August 2014

'You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!' 
Matthew 23.24

Reflection
Is that not true of many of us, that we take great care over the smaller matters of our faith while ignoring the major ways in which we breach God's holy laws? What Jesus condemned in his own day is made no less sinful by the passage of time.

Monday, August 25, 2014

prayer diary Monday 25 August 2014

‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.' 
Matthew 23.13

Reflection Who locks people out of heaven by their harsh teaching today? Perhaps there is now a new danger - those who try to make the faith seem so easy that it asks nothing of us at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

who do you say that I am?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our gospel reading today has the rightly famous account of St Peter's confession of faith. Jesus asks his disciples: who do people say that I am. He receives various answers: some say he is Elijah; others John the Baptist; others still that he is Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then, having tested the waters, Jesus asks them an even more important question: but who do you say that I am? And St Peter gets it spectacularly right when he declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

I'm sure you've heard on many occasions before that this is a question that we must all ask ourselves – who do we say that Jesus is? Indeed, it is something that all should ask themselves on a regular basis, because as Christians Jesus stands at the centre of our faith and the answer we give to that question very much decides what kind of Christians we are. But today I would like to consider Jesus' response to Peter's declaration: blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. Peter and the others apostles have been with Jesus for two and a half years or more at this point. They have seen Jesus heal many, raise people from the dead, calm storms, walk on water, feed thousands from a few scraps of bread; and, of course, heard the teaching of such sublime wisdom that it could not be other than divine. And yet Jesus says to Peter that for him to recognise him for who he was, Messiah and Son of God, is only possible because God the Father has revealed it to him.

There is an important lesson there for us. Being a Christian is about more than a mere intellectual assent to some basic principals that have been passed on from person to person over time. Real faith is much more than that – it comes from an action of the divine within us, from God revealing himself to each of us directly.

Let me elaborate on that. A person may by dint of their own mental inquiry arrive at the conclusion that the universe around us could not come into existence by way of some accident; and that mere chance is by no means a plausible explanation for the finely tuned order we see in all things from the actions of sub-atomic particles to the movements of the infinite number of galaxies that surround us; and the idea that not only life, but conscious life, could have occurred independent of a creator with a purpose and a design is an insult to the limited intelligence that we possess. And therefore the only rational explanation is that there is indeed a God who stands behind all we see, the uncreated creator of all else that exists.

From that, it is only a step to wondering what form that God might take. No amount of theorising can provide an answer to that. The unseen God who stands hidden behind his creation can only be known by what he decides to reveal to us. But if the inquirer casts a questioning mind honestly and openly about, then he is bound, I think to encounter the Christian faith; and if that is examined with equal honesty and openness, then he is bound to be convinced by its claims.

For example, there are those who have tried to attack our faith on the basis of its central claim, that Jesus rose from the dead. It is as St Paul said in his letters – if he did not rise, then our faith is in vain. Frank Morison was one such person. He felt Christianity stood on shaky ground with this claim and it would not take much to prove it wrong.

Yet the more he tried, the harder it was for him to deny the truth of this claim. He was convinced essentially by his inability to answer one key question: if Christ did not rise, then what happened to his body? Who moved the stone and took it? The Romans had no reason to do so. If it was the Jewish rulers of the day, then all they had to do to collapse the faith they hated and hounded was produce the dead body of the leader his followers claimed had defeated death. If the disciples, then how had they managed to take it from the guarded tomb? And even if they had, why would they have suffered and died to proclaim something that they knew to be a lie? The only thing that made sense was that he had indeed risen and that his followers had met and spoken with him again as they had claimed. So convinced did Morison become by his research into the matter that he wrote a book on the topic, 'Who moved the stone', which has become something of a classic and is well worth reading.

But of course all that evidence is available to any who cares to see it and still there are those – many – who not only deny that Christ is risen and is the Son of God but that God himself exists. Which brings us back to our Lord's response to St Peter's declaration of faith: blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. When it comes right down to it, God is not revealed to us by philosophical investigation or rational inquiry – these are of use mainly when it comes to dealing with those who claim that to believe is rational and that to have faith means leaving your reason at the door. Faith comes from an act of God's grace; he reveals himself to us; it is in his direct interaction with us that we know not only that God exists but that Jesus is his Son.

This is not the same as saying it is God's fault if any do not believe, because he has not given them that grace. He offers that grace to all – some simply chose to reject it. As in the parable of the sower, just as the seed is planted on all soils, so God's grace is offered to all his children. But some let the cares of this world, the temptations they face, or the pride they take in their own cleverness, choke that grace down. This means that even as give thanks for all that God gives us, especially the grace he fills us with so that we must truly know him, so we must also pray the eyes and ears, hearts, souls, and minds of all those who push that grace back will be opened so that they will be able to answer with us Christ's question – Who do you say that I am? – in the words of St Peter: you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.


To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Sunday 24 August 2014

Make a mental audit of your life. On one side of the ledger place all the ways in which your life is of service to others and to the one who made you. On the other place what you do for the sake of your own comfort and pleasure. Be honest. For example, if you work long hours, is it so that you can better provide for your family and be in a position to help those in need? Or is it for recognition and advancement, for the money for a better car, a more luxurious holiday, for greater comfort and pleasure in how you live? When you are done, look at the balance for each and ask yourself where does your treasure lie, on earth or in heaven?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 23 August 2014

'All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.' 
Matthew 23.12

Reflection
Those who seek power and position in this life risk paying a high price. True glory lies in humbly serving both God and your fellow man.